The Threat of ‘Business as Usual’ for UK Fishermen
Any attempt by the EU to assert authority over UK waters must be resisted, resisted strongly, and resisted today.
Come brexit, the EU will lose some 298,718 square miles of the richest fishing grounds in the world. The waters to the west of Scotland extend 200 miles toward Rockall, where haddock, herring and mackerel abound and a gargoyle-like array of ugly fish inhabit the abyssal depths. To the east, our waters extend to the middle of the North Sea, rich in white fish and prawns. As the southern North Sea narrows, our sea border abuts the waters of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, awash with flat fish.
In some places our southern sea border, due in no small part to the Channel Islands, lies only 10 miles off the coast of France. The toe of Cornwall extends our waters 200 miles into the Atlantic, a finger pointing to the rich fishing grounds we share with Ireland. And to the west of Wales and southern Scotland we halve the Irish Sea with Ireland, where some of the richest scallop beds are to be found.
Come brexit, the management of these waters will return to the UK, and with devolution, the day-to-day responsibility will rest in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. There is much to do to prepare for the day.
Sadly, in Brussels nothing has changed. Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella has refused to discuss brexit, turning down a request from the Fisheries Committee, upon which I sit, to explore the real challenges that lie ahead. Alain Cadec, the Chair of the Committee, is rightly worried. He hails from Saint-Brieuc in Brittany, and his fishermen catch some three-quarters of their quota in British waters. The same is pretty much true for all the continental fishing fleets of the southern North Sea. They all catch their quotas in our waters. In few policy areas is the British negotiating position stronger than in fisheries.
However, the ‘business as usual’ mantra in Brussels carries with it a threat that needs to be met head on. The European Commission launched its proposal for a Multi-Annual Management Plan for the North Sea in August. Now the Fisheries Committee is about to appoint a lead negotiator to flesh out the plan. There is only one teensy-weensy issue: the EU share of the North Sea is 20%. Look at the map of European territorial waters. Together with Norway we are responsible for 80% of the waters. A little presumptive of the EU to determine a management plan for the North Sea when so little of it is theirs, one might argue.
The MEP expected to lead the negotiations on behalf of the Parliament is German Socialist Ulrike Rodust. Ms Rodust has previous. She was the Parliament’s rapporteur on the last reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Ms Rodust is not the fisherman’s friend, I can assure you.
For obvious reasons, I have written to Commissioner Vella demanding that the North Sea plan be put on hold. There is a need for such a plan, but it should be determined by the UK and Norway. Thereafter the EU may wish to adopt the measures agreed by us.
The UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustace, is finely tuned in to this threat. As a leading brexiteer he is fully aware of the danger of an EU fait acompli. We can not allow the EU North Sea Management Plan to simply roll over into UK domestic law, binding fishermen for decades to come. He knows and I know that the fishermen of these islands deserve better than that. Any attempt by the EU to assert authority over UK waters must be resisted, resisted strongly, and resisted today. To that end, I will be working closely with George, and indeed with Scottish fisheries minister, Fergus Ewing, to ensure that out fishing communities get a settlement fit for the fishermen of these islands.
This article appeared in the Fishing News on Thursday 22nd of September 2016